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EU leaders pick von der Leyen for second term as Commission chief

June 28, 2024 12:39 PM IST

European Union leaders agreed on Friday to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for a second five-year term as president of the European Commission, the EU’s powerful executive body.

At a summit in Brussels, the bloc’s 27 national leaders also picked former Portuguese premier Antonio Costa as the future chair of their European Council meetings and selected Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as the next EU foreign policy chief.

The leadership package represents continuity for the 27-member bloc, with centrist pro-EU factions keeping hold of top posts despite a far-right surge in elections to the European Parliament earlier this month.

The deal was announced by the current European Council president, Charles Michel, on social media.

The trio won broad backing from leaders but diplomats said right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from the vote on von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas.

Von der Leyen’s nomination still needs approval from the European Parliament in a secret ballot – widely seen as a trickier proposition than her endorsement by EU leaders.

At the summit, the EU also signed a security agreement with Ukraine, debated how to bolster EU defences against Russia and agreed bloc’s strategic priorities for the next five years.

The security deal underlines EU support for Kyiv fighting off Moscow’s invasion for a third year, despite gains by the far-right in European elections, uncertainty created by French snap elections and the U.S. presidential vote in November.

The agreement lays out the EU’s commitments to help Ukraine in nine areas of security policy – including arms deliveries, military training, defence industry cooperation and demining.

“These commitments will help Ukraine defend itself, resist destabilisation, and deter future acts of aggression – more concrete proof of the EU’s unshakeable resolve to support Ukraine for the long haul,” Michel said.

The leaders will reiterate their pledge to support Ukraine as long as it takes, stressing that “Russia must not prevail” and that Ukraine must get back the land annexed by Moscow.

DEFENCE DEBATE

The war in Ukraine laid bare the EU’s lack of preparedness for a conflict as the bloc struggles to supply Kyiv with enough weapons against Russia, prompting calls for more EU coordination of defence systems and investment in defence industries.

Diplomats said von der Leyen told the summit that between 1999 and 2021, the EU increased defence spending by 20%, China by 600% and Russia by 300%, even before Moscow’s massive rise in military spending after its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

According to diplomats, von der Leyen told leaders the EU needed to invest 500 billion euros ($535.30 billion) in defence over the next 10 years. Financing options ranged from national contributions, dedicated revenue streams – called the EU’s own resources – and joint borrowing, von der Leyen said.

Investment in defence is part of the EU’s “strategic agenda” that the leaders aim to agree before dinner on Thursday – a document that tells EU institutions what European governments want them to focus on during their 2024-2029 term.

Apart from defence, the agenda calls for a more competitive EU to withstand economic pressure from China and the United States and for preparing the bloc for enlargement that would include Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans.

Inputs: REUTERS

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Last updated on: 20th July 2024